Friday, July 23, 2010

My Inspiration to Become a Hospice Volunteer

Friday, July 23, 2010
It seems like a lifetime ago when a neighbor I barely knew became ill with lung cancer. Although she lived next door, she was very quiet, and I didn’t know her, other than to wave occasionally as she walked to the bus stop.

One day, before I even knew that Paula was sick, a social worker knocked on my door. She told me that she was from hospice, that Paula was dying and that she needed me to bring her meals a couple days a week. Being a single mom with a demanding job, an even more demanding child and the added burden of college classes at night, I was more than a little surprised at the social worker’s request. But I did it and, over the next few months, became quite close to Paula.

On the last day that I saw her, I went into the house as usual, but the door to the dining room, where her hospital bed had replaced the table and chairs, was closed. Strange sounds were emanating from that room. I knocked, and an unfamiliar voice told me to come in. A woman I didn’t recognize was in a chair at the foot of the bed, and she was knitting. She was a hospice volunteer and was sitting with Paula while she was “actively dying”, a term that I’d never heard before.

I was so frightened by the flailing of her arms and the loud moans that I wanted to run out of the house. But the hospice volunteer kindly told me to take Paula’s hands in mine and talk to her. It took a few minutes for me to get the courage to reach for her hands, but I did, and I told her who I was and that I’d come to be with her. She calmed down immediately and became peaceful. It was a very emotional moment for me, and I believe it was the catalyst that led me to eventually become a hospice volunteer.

Ten years later, I happened to see an article in a local newspaper about a training class for Beaumont Hospital’s hospice program. My first thought was that I wasn’t sure I could sit with dying patients the way the volunteer had stayed with Paula that night. But remembering how it felt to be with her through the last days of her life, I decided to look into it. That was in 1999, and I’ve been with Beaumont Hospice ever since.

My hospice experience has enriched my life beyond measure. The patients and their caregivers have taught me so much about people, families and life in general. And I’ll never forget them or their stories. One woman had been a nurse in World War II. She treated wounded soldiers on a train that transported them from Normandy to hospitals. She was there on D-Day and told me countless stories about the injuries she witnessed. She also talked about how the nurses were allowed only one helmet full of water for their daily grooming needs. They’d start by brushing their teeth, then cleaning their bodies and then washing their underwear! I can’t even imagine making do with that. Another patient was an artist who showed me how to make a silver Byzantine chain, even though she was legally blind. I’ve been making jewelry ever since.

Being a hospice volunteer is definitely not for everyone. But if you think you’d be interested in helping patients have a peaceful end-of-life experience, consider becoming a volunteer. And if you’re in the Detroit metro area, Beaumont Hospice usually has a volunteer training session scheduled. Call Dennis Cole at 248-743-9405 for more information.


Claudia said...

Great post! I wasn't aware that you were in it so long.

Editing4U said...

Thanks! Yep, it seems like only a few years ago that I started. And I wouldn't give it up for anything.

LisaLisa said...

Oh, I'm so pleased to see you have joined the Hospice Team. I am a retired Hospice nurse and I tell you if I hadn't gotten hurt by a patient i still would be working. You are so right, being a hospice nurse or volunteer is a gift I think....I think you have to have the heart, compassion and consideration for others who are dying. I miss my patients so much and I still try to remain active with some of them from home. Calling patients or just assisting other family/friends who are dealing with love ones who are in the active stage of dying. I tip my hat off to you for joining the Hospice Team!! Gr8 post!!!

Editing4U said...

Thanks, Lisa, for the kind words! Hospice nurses are some of the finest people I've ever met. They're really on duty 24/7, and I don't know how they do it. One nurse actually brought her husband with her to a patient's home at 5:00 a.m. She'd fallen and made a mess in the living room, and her daughter had called the nurse to say that she couldn't get her mom up. So the nurse and her husband came, got the woman back in bed and helped clean up the mess. That's amazing to me. God bless hospice nurses, including you!

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